The use of standardized tests as a measure of student success and progress in school goes back decades. This practice was formalized by the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which established the broader use of test scores as a measure of school quality nationwide. The 2009 Race to the Top federal grant program promoted teacher evaluation reforms that also included the use of standardized tests as a component of a teacher’s evaluation.

But there has been pushback against the use of tests. Some academics and advocates, prominently including the teachers’ unions, have raised various concerns about the consequences of reliance (or overreliance) on test scores for school and teacher accountability purposes. And while there is certainly academic and policy disagreement about the efficacy of using test scores for accountability purposes, there is no doubt that policymakers are scaling back the mandated use of tests. The 2015 passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), for instance, continues NCLB’s requirement that students be tested annually from third to eighth grade, but eliminates much of the federal role in enforcing test-based accountability.

More recently, however,...


I’m in the middle of a series of posts looking at how we might usher in a “Golden Age of Educational Practice” now that big new policy initiatives appear to be on ice. Last week I claimed that all of the possibilities that might work at scale entail various investments in innovation and R&D. Such efforts will only be successful, though, with exponentially better insight into what’s actually happening in the classroom.

That’s because, right now, key decision-makers are flying blind. Consider just a few examples of questions that have been raised in recent weeks that we simply cannot answer:

  • Is student achievement flat because teachers are implementing Common Core, and it’s not working? Or is it flat because are teachers mostly ignoring Common Core? Or is it neither of the above? We have no idea.
  • Has “balanced literacy” served as a Trojan Horse that allowed whole-language reading instruction to continue unabated in our elementary schools, instead of a scientifically-based approach with a big emphasis on phonics and phonemic awareness? Is this an issue in relatively few schools or lots of schools? We have no idea.
  • Are most high schools teaching a Howard Zinn–inspired version
  • ...

Last May, Slate ran an eight-part series exploring the rise in online learning for high school students who had failed a course. One of the articles included a screenshot of this tweet with identifying information removed: “If anyone wants to go online and do my chemistry credit recovery, I’d be more than happy to give you my username and password.”

Ouch. Teenage bravado, perhaps, but it illustrates our worst fears about credit recovery.

For the uninitiated, credit recovery is the practice of enabling high-school students to retrieve credits from courses that they either failed or failed to complete. And it’s at the crossroads of two big trends in education.

The first is the desire to move toward “competency based” education. Rather than make all pupils march through a prescribed curriculum on a one-size-fits-all timeline, this approach allows them to move at their own pace, earning a credential by demonstrating what they know and can do, not because they accumulated a fixed number of hours in their classroom seats.

The second trend is the push to dramatically boost graduation rates. That started with a No Child Left Behind regulation under former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, mandating that states measure...


College-level courses taken while in high school have never been more popular. Chief among these sources is Advanced Placement (AP), whose five million exams were taken by almost three million students in 2018. AP’s popularity has skyrocketed for a host of reasons: parents seeking a more rigorous curriculum for their kids; principals wanting to drive their school up on competitive national rankings; and students hoping to polish their college applications, propel themselves through the ivy-covered gates, and—if all goes well—skip some vast, lecture-style intro courses when they get there. It’s also widely believed (including by some 58 percent of U.S. teachers) that AP’s expansion owes something to students wanting to save money or graduate early with the help of AP credits.

Yet little is known about how many students do actually earn college credit from taking AP exams, and how this actually benefits them. A new analysis from Vanderbilt University assistant professor Brent J. Evans takes a timely look at who gains college credit via AP and what positive outcomes are associated with that credit.

Evans examined data from a nationally representative survey, following 14,830 students who started college in 2004 and tracking them for six years. He looked...


Journalists are told to “follow the money,” and it seems only fair the same adage be applied to education. A new report from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas does just that, comparing the levels and sources of funding between traditional public schools (TPS) and charter schools in some of our nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Faithfully following the money, the authors finding a whopping $5,835 annual advantage for each TPS student.

The researchers—Corey A. DeAngelis, Patrick J. Wolf, Larry D. Maloney, and Jay F. May—collected revenue data for the 2015–16 school year from what they refer to as “a maze” of district, state, and federal websites. Where states did not gather the same depth of data for charters, information came from annual reports, independent audits, and federal 990 forms from individual schools. The authors grade fourteen metropolitan areas by the width of the funding gap between TPS and charters—cities with less than a 5 percent disparity receive an “A,” and those with more than a 25 percent disparity receive an “F.” All the numbers in the report are per pupil, calculated using fall enrollment data.

Notably, the study analyzes yearly revenues, not yearly expenditures. Some charter...


Editor’s note: On Tuesday, November 27, the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers co-sponsored an event called “The 2018 Elections: What Do They Mean for American Education?” Moderated by Michelle Ringuette, assistant to the president for labor, government & political affairs at the American Federation of Teachers, the panel featured Domingo Morel, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and the Albert Shanker Institute, and Fordham Insitute president Michael Petrilli. Each participant delivered an opening statement. Here is Mike’s.


American education lost two great leaders last week with the passing of George H.W. Bush and Harold O. Levy.

It’s likely they never even met, as they came from different worlds and moved through the education solar system on different orbits. They belonged to different political parties and hailed from different generations. Yet their contributions to the betterment of K-12 education in the United States were both large and in interesting ways parallel.

Bush was a New England aristocrat turned Texas oilman turned politician and government official. Save for his time as ambassador to the United Nations, he never lived in New York. Levy, on the other hand, was a quintessential New Yorker, the son of Jewish refugees, a Wall Street lawyer who ultimately became the city’s schools chancellor and then head of an important private foundation.

Yet each was, in his way, an education leader, a visionary even, a champion of both excellence and equity, the head of large enterprises, and the source of a durable and influential legacy.

In 1988, campaigning in New Hampshire, Bush declared before a high-school audience that “I want to be the education president.” No U.S. president nor (to my knowledge) serious candidate...

Samantha Viano

More than two-thirds of high schools nationwide offer credit recovery programs, and an average of 6 percent of students participate in them, according to Fordham’s new analysis that uses data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In some states, the proportion is significantly higher. My own analysis of transcript data from North Carolina, for example, found that one in ten high school students took at least one credit recovery course over the last five years.

What is consistently missing from these data is information about how schools are providing credit recovery. If a student is repeating a course traditionally, there are clear standards for who should be providing that instruction: an educator certified to teach that subject who is employed by the school district. But when the course is online, there is no such national standard for who is providing instruction. Instead, as the Fordham report notes, regulation varies by state. In some, online learning is entirely centralized, such that all courses are created and administered by public entities. Others have no criteria or metrics whatsoever.

States with fewer regulations have been inundated by private corporations that provide credit recovery courses. I have spoken...

Joy Lawson Davis

As an educational community, we are constantly analyzing our strengths and weaknesses to determine how well we are meeting the needs of all students. Often, we measure our performance in terms of ‘growth’ and ‘gaps’. Gifted education equity advocates, school personnel, and policymakers are always on the alert for new information addressing gaps in performance and opportunities for students who are typically underserved in gifted programs. We are often discouraged when new studies or reports indicate that we are not progressing and making positive change occur for students as rapidly as we should.

A recent study reported that across the nation, black and Hispanic students continue to be under-served in gifted programs at an alarming rate. Actually, the report notes that only three of the nation’s state data indicate equitable services for black and Hispanic students. For many of us, these statistics are not all surprising. In the report, several practices are noted that appear to have some impact on addressing the ‘gifted gap’ in schools. Based on my experience and involvement with schools and communities across the nation over the past twenty-five years or so, there are at least three strategies that I would like to recommend...


Credit recovery, or the practice of enabling high school students to retrieve credits from courses that they either failed or failed to complete, is at the crossroads of two big trends in education: the desire to move toward “competency based” education and a push to dramatically boost graduation rates.

Balancing these competing demands is a challenge, but balance we must because, under ESSA, states are required to factor graduation rates into their high school accountability plans. That provides an unintended incentive for schools to play games with graduation requirements, which underscores the need to keep credit recovery from turning into a total end run around actual learning.

Authored by Fordham’s Associate Director of Research Adam Tyner and Research Associate Nicholas Munyan-Penney, Gotta Give 'Em Credit: State and District Variation in Credit Recovery Participation Rates examines whether and where potential misuse of credit recovery may be occurring. Specifically, it answers three questions:

  1. How many high schools have active credit recovery programs, and are some types of schools more likely than others to have them?
  2. How many students are enrolled in credit recovery?
  3. To what extent do schools enroll large shares of their students in credit recovery, and is that more
  4. ...